New Training Puts Fire Department Command Staff Ahead of Curve

Twenty members of the Greenfield Fire Department are participating in training that simulates at least 100 fire scenarios.

Around 2 p.m. Wednesday, several members of the command staff jointly tackled a huge blaze in a strip mall.

Just a few minutes later, the fire started up again. And then again. And again.

Don’t worry Greenfield, the command staff knows exactly what it’s doing.

Twenty of 50 department members, including all company officers, acting officers and chiefs, have been participating in the Blue Card Command Certification Program, a training and certification curriculum that teaches incident commanders and officers how to standardize local incident operations across their organization.

The program begins with 50-70 hours of online learning followed by 24 hours of in-class simulation training spread over three days at Fire Station 2.

"Each person will go to a hundred fires over three days," Fire Chief Jon Cohn said. "We just can’t simulate that any other way. It’s building confidence and putting us on the same page in a way that would have taken us for years."

The in-class training looks like a group of middle-aged video gamers glued to their computer screens, anxiously waiting for communications through the simulated dispatch center, run by retired Brookfield Fire Chief John Dahms.

The first arriving incident commander is the first to have his computer screen go live. He assesses the fire and puts a call through dispatch discussing needs and concerns. When the second arriving incident commander arrives, his screen is activated.

As many as eight different computer screens eventually go live, showing the fire from all different angles and points of view on various types of buildings including single-family homes, multi-family apartment complexes, strip malls, industrial buildings and big-box stores.

The participants rotate around the room after each scenario is completed, allowing them to experience what their teammates have experienced. When each simulation is complete, the participants have a jam session to discuss what they did well, what they did wrong and what they could do better.

“It gets everybody on the same page,” said Lt. Mark Dahlman, a 20-year veteran with Greenfield. “When they’re describing what they’re seeing, we know what they’re seeing because we’ve all been through it together. Once the whole zone goes through it, it will help everyone work better together and help everybody understand the language we’re using.”

Of course, the one thing that can’t be simulated is the actual fire and the dangers associated with firefighting.

“If we’re responding (to a fire) in an engine, instead of sitting in the engine and giving (the details), we’re actually going into the fire and still trying to take command until the battalion car or one of the chiefs gets there,” Dahlman said. "So it’s a little different here, a little easier."


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